Papua New Guinea’s National Standard for Community Development Workers

Community development workers from CARE PNG and the Community Development Agency (nightly debrief and reviewing plans during drought response, Gumine District, 2016)
Community development workers from CARE PNG and the Community Development Agency (nightly debrief and reviewing plans during drought response, Gumine District, 2016)

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a competency-based National Standard for Community Development Workers. It is home-grown and government endorsed, and was officially launched in May 2007 by the then Minister for Community Development, Dame Carol Kidu. The Standard falls under the auspices of PNG’s National Apprenticeships and Trades Testing Board (NATTB). It describes the minimum performance criteria for tasks commonly carried out by Community Development Workers (CDWs), including field officers, field workers, pastors, community liaison officers, ward development committee members, community volunteers, district officers and extension officers.

The National Standard for CDWs reduces the complexity of development approaches to common minimum criteria for performance. It’s not a recipe to follow, but the absolute minimum ingredients that need to be in the recipe. It complements other specialist skills and supports existing workplace practices, so that when a CDW with sectoral expertise such as an agricultural officer, pastor or a district commerce officer carries out their normal duties, they will also have the common minimum skills and knowledge to work with families, groups and communities in ways that facilitate participatory, inclusive, locally led and self-reliant development.

Because literacy and education levels are generally still low in PNG, development initiatives that help families, groups and communities rely on CDWs from outside or inside the community to help facilitate the process. The National Standard is a great tool for building the capacity, confidence, professional identity and employability of CDWs, leading to better development assistance. 

The desire to establish the National Standard for CDWs was driven by PNG civil society organisations (CSOs) and tertiary institutions, and its development facilitated through an AusAID-funded program (the Community Development Scheme). A committee of PNG experts was nominated by CSOs and the tertiary sector to develop the National Standard. It comprised representatives from Divine Word University’s PNG Studies, the University of Technology’s Communications for Development department, the PNG Department for Community Development, the NATTB, and PNG CSOs working across improved forestry practices, conservation, disability services and advocacy, agricultural extension, family violence, health, education and broader community development. This committee formulated the minimum competencies required of PNG CDWs when they: conduct training or awareness programs; help a community, group, or family to analyse their development situation and identify priorities; help communities to develop a plan, facilitate an agreement or implement an activity; and monitor progress and evaluate activities. The National Standard also includes minimum competencies required of PNG CDWs when they make preparations, conduct community entry and prepare reports.

Since 2007 the National Standard for CDWs has been reviewed, and it has evolved. Notably, the assessment and accreditation process has become workplace based, and simpler and easier to use for organisations wanting to help their personnel to obtain nationally recognised (government) accreditation. For many organisations, however, it has been sufficient to train their personnel so that they have the skills to meet the National Standard, even if they are not formally assessed and accredited. Competency-based training handbooks and coursebooks that target the National Standard have been refined and are now widely used. Currently, PNG’s Fresh Produce Development Agency, the Coffee Industry Corporation, CARE International in PNG, Ok Tedi Development Foundation, Oil Search Ltd and Oil Search Foundation have officers participating in CDW training. Many districts and PNG NGOs have trained officers and community volunteers against the National Standard in recent years including Gumine District, Obura-Wonenara District, Menyamya District, Bougainville Women’s Federation, the Autonomous Bougainville Government, Backyard Farms and the Community Development Agency.

As well as providing a basis for CDW duty statements and training courses, the National Standard helps CDWs and the organisations they work for by:

  • providing benchmarks for CDW assessment
  • broadening the CDW’s skills base
  • recognising the skills held by those in both formal and informal employment
  • developing a portfolio of a CDW’s competence to support professional and employment opportunities
  • providing a basis for in-house accreditation and the option of NATTB accreditation
  • identifying further training needs
  • delivering a common standard for CDWs in PNG.

There is also the opportunity for CDWs and the organisations they work for to market themselves as delivering development assistance in line with the National Standard.

Over time the standards may gradually be raised and added to so that CDW practice also continually adapts and improves. Capitalising on progress so far, there are opportunities for the National Standard to be more broadly adopted and embedded. This will ensure that the Standard is sustained and improved, and that its benefits are realised more widely in PNG. These opportunities include:

  • Commitment from larger organisations, including the resource industry, to provide their CDWs (field officers, extension officers, community liaison officers, etc) with ongoing access to training, assessment and accreditation against the National Standard. Just as minimum standards must be met in traditional trades, so too minimum standards should be met when it comes to engagement with industry-affected communities (for example, Oil Search is currently partnering with the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research to develop CDW coursebooks that will be integrated into the professional training of Oil Search field officers).
  • Commitment from international agencies to ensure that their PNG programs are conducted in ways that enable field activities to meet (and exceed) PNG’s minimum standards for CDWs.
  • Web-based open access to the National Standard and related information (currently access relies on people phoning and requesting hard copies from the NATTB).

The National Standard provides a simple foundation – the minimum requirements – for the complex and sensitive work of CDWs and community development practice. It provides a structure for professional development and professional recognition of CDWs and has the potential to continue to drive improved practice. Whether engaging CDWs in long-term community development programs or providing support during times of emergency such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, having access to and confidence in the professional capacities of CDWs to effectively facilitate engagement and action is critical. How then could more agencies and organisations be made aware of, and take up, the PNG National Standard for Community Development Workers? Your ideas welcome!

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Rebecca Pepame Robinson

Rebecca Pepame Robinson is a Community Development and Governance Consultant focused on Papua New Guinea.

Priscilla Pius

Priscilla Pius is a member of the Industry Technical Panel for the National Standard for Community Development Workers, and was previously Project Manager at CARE International in PNG.

Chris Gard

Chris Gard is an international development consultant focused on Papua New Guinea.

Merilyn Gairo

Merilyn Gairo is Project Manager for The Leprosy Mission PNG, and chairperson of the Industry Technical Committee for the National Standard for Community Development Workers.

Lucinda Gulluman-Kisip

Lucinda Gulluman-Kisip is the Senior Sustainable Development Manager at Oil Search Limited.


  • If it wasn’t for Community Development Standard, my agricultural skill would not have made any difference to people because agricultural skill are not “people skills”.

    Since I learned the community development skills, I always made success stories, since 2004.

    I never failed a project because I could easily connect their development need well. They saw themselves as the answer to their problems and solved it.

    Among a number of my heroes, I thank Fritz Robinson, Francis Kup, Priscilla Plus, Rebecca Robinson and Chris Guard who were my role models.

    I will be a role model to others.

  • Thank you for discussion on this forum about CDW National Standard. I truly agree with all the comments made. I understand there is no institution who is housing this. The NTTB does the accreditations but institutions should deliver this training and I find no training provider doing it.

    I have worked with Care PNG under the ICDP Program and found the CD skills to be very useful, in fact, CDA the organization I am working with is trying to develop a Community Development Institute which will focus on using the manuals and modules amongst other CD skills to target our out of school youths. I would seek advice from the forum from time to time on this.

    • Hi Yanny,
      it’s great to hear that CDA and the development institute they are developing will use the manuals (also check out the other training resources you can download from the website – these are regularly updated). You have some terrific people involved in CDA who will be able to use the materials and approaches really well.
      Keep safe and well.

  • I am seeking help to register as a Church based Training Service Provider for CDWs. I promote Farmer to Farmer Extension Approach and progressing to Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO) formation and market linking. Field Workers are needed for this excercise to develop Community or FPO Extension Service Providers. I need guidance to register as CDW Training Service Provider. Please help.

  • As a scientist and researcher, my language and delivery methods were not suitable for communities I have worked with. Often times I had reflected on where I could have gone wrong, because my audience, although they seemed delighted to receive, rarely implemented!
    After receiving training in becoming a CDW using the PNG CDW National Standards, I have changed completely my approach, and have seen great results. I look forward to completing my training, and receiving a certificate that has more value than all others I have accumulated. In fact, I wish I received this training before I graduated from university.

    Thank you to those of you who have worked tirelessly to develop the PNG CDW National Standards. My heartfelt thank you. For me, this will bridge the gap for information and technology transfer that is suited to the needs of communities that they themselves have identified. Not me pushing them to change and develop.

    Debbie K
    Community educator/trainer

    I do hope other PNG government agencies, NGOs, CBOs, etc use the CDW National Standards in their staff development programs

  • This is a interesting topic. The question is how does community development programs within companie led activities alignment with government development plans such as the SME in all projects areas and the Centre for Excellence In Financial Inclussion (CEFI) programs sanctioned by the Central bank of PNG.

    Community development has been a very good tool but they are all to do with programs supported by the company and how that will be sustained appears to be an issue.

    For resource sector mobilization of formally organize group.has been a problem for all sectors especially the mining and petroleum sector.

    Program owner is not with the community whilst training and support is provided by the company and community development some times are company initiated.

    The Marape Steven government is talking about SME and support for SME program and how community development programs can be aligned for sustainability of company initiated program my acheive better result.

    Companies involved in community development programs should now change their mind set and change from individual, company – focused wealth creation to a collective investment with shared purpose and vision.

    It provides social license as well as true support for sustainable development.

    John I Tambiabu.
    Social License Engineer (SLE)

  • Awesome job Chris, Rebecca and the team. The CDW National Standard has a lot of success stories and has play a vital role for change in some of the rural communities and with people I have worked with. Sustainability of any development in communities relies on good community engagement and community participation. Many project fails because of poor community involvement. Therefore, I suggest this CDW National Standard to any development organisation or agency to try adopt the approach when engaging with communities to do any development work. To achieve PNG vision, we needs to start turning development expectations around; communities, groups, individual and families need to be empowered to start leading their own development and is through the simple CDW approach that will create pathway for change.

    • Thanks Bennie for your insights, and for the leadership role that you (and Debbie Kapal and Joe Koima) have played to help FPDA align its practice to the National Standard. Trupela CDW.

  • Great to see a first lot of organizations both in public and private getting involved. CDW national standards delivers impact when it is applied within an established system with strong backing from the leadership of these organizations. Kudos to these organizations championing the CDW national standards as it shows their commitment to delivering quality outcomes for the communities they work with. It will be great to see more organizations join the CDW national standards. There are a number of ways to participate in the CDW standards. (1) Get your staff to participate in CDW training so they can share their experience on how it works. (2) Get your organization to organize CDW training for your staff so you get to experience its practical application in the community. (3) Organise a study tour to exchange learning from the experience of these organizations who are already applying these standards out in the communities or in their place of work. This ensures the CDW standards are shared widely across sectors and cultures. Credit to the leadership of these organizations on setting the pace in this space. Looking forward to following these standards as it evolves.

  • Important standards for community development workers tailored for the PNG context. It should be a requirement for any organisation involved in community development activities in PNG to be aware of these standards. Having awareness of these standards will also help with identifying potential areas for improvement as CDWs are exposed to new contexts/situations in development work.

  • I am for the National CDW Standard..This is a very important Worker Standard and my suggestion is for NATTB and our powerful team to visit all provinces to do awareness to CD practitioners on the CDW Worker Standard so there is uniformity in how we conduct our CD work and accreditations given accordingly…

  • Thank you all for this timely piece. I was oblivious to the fact that such a standard existed for PNG.
    I’m keen to learn about the standard and look towards exploring it’s application towards climate change adaptation programs within PNG.

    • Thankyou Craig,
      One of the many great things about the CDW Standard is that it applies across diverse sectors. It is especially relevant to the ways that CDWs facilitate a truly participatory process with communities or community groups to lead their own development – whether that be for climate change adaptation or any other priority they identify. I hope that you find it useful.
      Kind Regards,

  • The CDW National Standard has provided the platform and opportunity for community development practitioners (informal) in the communities to become the catalyst for and facilitator of change within their local settings. Not only that, it has enabled them to grow and become better at what they do and beyond – taken onto a formal job in the public sector, extractive industries and civil society.

    I like it because it’s PNG tailored – culturally sensitive, encourages community participation especially women, allows communities to own their development in an accountable and sustainable way, encourages community contributions and use of existing governance structure to deliver basic services in a smarter way. At the end of the day, it’s the satisfaction you attain from being part of the reason for putting a smile on; a child’s face having a new classroom in the local school; a woman who feels empowered and confident now that she can read, write & do basic calculations; a man who has just learnt new agriculture techniques, skills and knowledge and feels empowered to provide and invest in his family/community.

    • I can confidently and safely say that the PNG National Standards for Community Development Workers has enhanced and increased the knowledge and skills of ordinary CDW and fine-tuned them into finished products as indicated by the level of confidence demonstrated during training facilitation and project initiation, planning and implementation.

      The most important thing here is to see change in people (beneficiaries) which we work with through application of these skills and knowledge gained.

      Apart from introducing Oil Search Foundation to PNG National Standard for CDW, I have also incorporated and established my own Community Based Organisation under the name Agarabi Rural Development Association and managed to develop my community through the funds secured from UNDP, USAID, and Oil Search Foundation and many more still forthcoming!

      I’d like to take this time to thank and appreciate Chris Gard, Rebecca Robinson and others for your efforts in establishing PNGNSCDW! The resources are awesome and mostly importantly it is PNG local content/context.

      I would encourage others who are working as development practitioners to be part and parcel of this important organisation and learn the skills and knowledge required to mould and shape you to become professional CDW!

  • We take for granted that every person who works in a community has the ability to communicate and facilitate processes that helps a community to find a roadmap for their own development story. Sadly that’s not always the case. CD skills can be taught, learnt and applied where appropriate.
    It’s not about you, it always has to be about the community. To be able to help communities find their way forward, the CDW Standard equips the Community Worker to be able to facilitate and not dictate to communities about meaningful change.
    It requires a change in mindset on the part of the Community Development Worker.

    • Thanks Adrian,
      All of us would love to hear any suggestions and ideas for improvement. The National Standards for CDWs gradually evolve over time and help drive improved practice. It would be great to hear your ideas!

  • The CDW Standard is a very useful tool that can be simplified and used to train Ward development committees to equip them with basic knowledge on how to engage the community in implementing community based projects.

    • Thanks August for your comment. The Department for Provincial and Local Level Government (DPLGA), which oversees Ward processes, have a member on the Industry Panel responsible for the National Standard for Community Development Workers. DPLGA already plan to train Ward Development Committee members in CDW skills, when and if funds allow. Community development would benefit greatly if Ward Development Committees (and Community Government Committees in Bougainville) had members with CDW skills, or even dedicated CDW positions.

      • I would like to get involved at the board or committee level for development of standards etc…

        How do I join?
        Thank you

  • The CDW National Standard is one of the best initiatives, giving hope to people who did not complete formal education, are new to work with communities or new graduates from University who had no experience. The Standard guides the person to be a good facilitator/trainer and to understand the appropriate approaches of working in the communities.
    The standard is PNG tailored and suits all sectors that work with communities. If you want to be good at what you do in development, this standard will make you give the best.
    The Standard is live and can be used upon request.

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